CEO Sundays: 7 Business Lessons I learned from the Music Industry

By December 14, 2014


This article comes to us by Todd Dahn, co-founder Platformz

As co-founder of the music search engine, Platformz, I am not your typical start-up guy. I consider myself a hip-hop producer first, who happened to create a music technology that has captured the attention of the entertainment industry

Platformz was born of my personal frustration with the current streaming music offerings, not just as a listener, but also as an independent artist. There’s multiple sites to discover, stream and and purchase music. Add to it that not all artists have the same content on the same sites, and music discovery takes a lot of time and energy, both for the listener and for the artist.

While watching a Kayak commercial one day I realized that there was nothing like it that could activate a search across the major streaming platforms. Today, Platformz is the only music service that enables aggregated music search across the biggest streaming services like Soundcloud, Mixcloud and Audiomack.

In the coming months, Platformz will unveil an insights dashboard that will enable real time data such as what artists get searched the most, what content is streamed across all sites, how long its streamed, and in what order. Included in this data will be geographic insights. What I’m most excited about is that this will give indie artists a sense of where their fans are clustered, to help them plan tours, in the US and even internationally. As a content creator, one of the biggest challenges I faced after I got some fans was knowing where they were located. This kind of data would immediately streamline my marketing efforts. For indie artists, money is always tight and anything that can make that more efficient is a critical addition to the marketing arsenal. To offer this kind of service to independent artists, taps into a sector that, according to Billboard Magazine, comprises over 34.5% of the music industry’s market share in the United States.

In my 20 years in the music industry, I learned quite a bit about business. Many of the philosophies I’ve picked up since my days as a fledgling producer and sound engineer continue to ring true as I grow Platformz. I’m sharing them with you today:

1. Know and Reference The Back Catalogue

For artists and entrepreneurs alike, it is important to understand the full history of your genre and product category. Not only does this help you to take notes from those who have come before you, but also to learn from their mistakes. In creating a music technology company, it was very important for me to take into consideration the evolution of this business. From music being discovered on the radio and in record stores, to CDs and eventually torrenting sites like Napster (and we all know what happened there), to the dynamics of today’s streaming. This knowledge puts me in the best position to evolve my business with really critical historic context.

2. Switch it Up Until You Find the Right Mix of Talent

Think of how many music groups, artists and bands have had to hire and fire parts of the group, to make it work and find success. This is a well understood part of the music business. Making an app is a lot like making a record in this sense. You need a good team, and it might not all come together at the same time. To produce a successful app you need a project manager, developers, and designers that have that magical balance of sharing in your creative vision, while also bringing their own ideas and added value. It can be difficult to cut ties with someone that is not working, but it’s important to be confident enough to switch “good” out for “great.” In the creation of Platformz, I went thru three different teams of coders until I found the right mix of design and coding experience, and vision, to execute my plan. The result is a product that is better than I could have ever produced on my own, my version of Grammy gold.3341897

3. Find Partners that are Positioned to Rise With You

In music, as with business, when you’re small, you have to knock on a lot of doors and can find it challenging to get meetings with bigger players. As an indie producer I have found success collaborating with amazing, fresh talent that is equally positioned to grow with my label. With Platformz, as the only search platform for music, we first made sure the major streaming sites like SoundCloud were part of our search, but there was a big opportunity to partner with other small companies. For us, a partnership with Audiomack, a relatively new hip hop music streaming platform with it’s own built in user base, represented a really strong mutual relationship for Platformz. We were able to launch as the only mobile app with access to Audiomack. The combined power of our two companies benefits listeners and our growing businesses.

4. Hit the Pavement and Follow-up

Making Platformz was like making a record, even down to the financials. Getting funding is very much like getting a record deal. As an independent artist, I have driven across the country, done shows under insane conditions, and all to get my music in the right hands. I apply this same philosophy to building my business and driving investor interest in Platformz. In business, as it is in music, it is about who you know, what type of first impression you can make on an investor. I am the first person to tell a new contact all about my company, our vision and ask them questions that I know will get me into the next conversation. I am driving and flying all over the country, meeting with artists to talk about the company and to get their input. This “always on” attitude is how I have been able to get Platformz in front of investors from coast to coast, and how I have translated budding conversations into solid partnerships for the company. Don’t be afraid to make an “ask” and follow-up within a few days. Don’t wait for them to reach out to you.

5. Not Every Opportunity is Right for your Brand

Knowing when NOT to do something is just as important as moving fast on the right opportunity. I’ve passed on producing musical talent over the years because they just weren’t what I was looking for at the time. The same goes for the marketing efforts for launching your brand. Be judicious about how and where you partner so that you’re not just throwing advertising dollars all over the place. My strategy was to focus on events where we could have a bigger presence, versus being a small fish in a big pond. As a product specifically for indies, this was a great way to have deeper conversations with users and get genuine feedback to improve the product.

6. Get a Thick Skin and Use Rejection to Motivate You

As a new artist on the scene in the music biz, you have a lot of doors slammed in your face before finding the right producers and labels to secure a record deal. Just like in the music biz, persistence and thick skin are critical to your start-up. I have been told “no,” the idea is too expensive, the concept of Platformz is bigger than even I can grasp and that, it’s not feasible with current technology. If I had listened to the criticisms, Platformz would not have launched the first and only search engine for indie music. If it doesn’t exist, and no one thinks it can be done, even more reason for you to be the first one to do it.

7. Collaborate With and Tap Into Rising Stars

One of my favorite things about producing music is that you never know what’s going to happen when you walk into studio. You might come out with a totally different song than what you went in to create, all because of the people in the room. Developing Platformz was no different. I surround myself with amazing, talented people who challenge me, ask hard questions, and make the product better. I remember meeting with our developers once, explaining how I wanted a certain part of the app to function and this young programmer said to me, “Yeah, that’s a little yesterday. The way that’s done in the app now is like this….” And he totally blew my mind. I loved it.

About Todd Dahn:

Todd_Dahn_LeadTodd Dahn is the Founder of Platformz, LLC, a powerful mobile indie music and media search engine. Todd founded his first start-up at the age of 19 and has been involved in the music business since 1996, where heTodd started out as a mix engineer with his own studio, The Delivery Room. In 2006 Todd added professional music composer/ producer to his skill set, writing and producing more than 15 full-length albums and over 45 singles for various artists to date. Todd began his career in the staffing industry where he developed and launched the recruitment department at SEI Information Technology (Former owners and creators of Nav Tech).